Tammy Heinz knew she had experienced something exceptional after being trained in the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) by its creator, Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland, in Vermont.

“WRAP was life-changing for me and I knew I needed to bring it home to Texas,” she said. Ten years later, after facilitating more than 100 WRAP trainings in Texas, Heinz has done exactly that.

WRAP empowers mental health consumers to identify what makes and keeps them well, and emphasizes hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy and support. It shifts the focus from symptom control to prevention, recovery and wellness.

Heinz, now a Hogg Foundation program officer and consumer and family liaison, began a peer support program that included WRAP training in Fort Worth in 2001. Over time she saw how the program inspired hope and changed lives and wanted to offer that opportunity to more consumers across Texas.

In 2010, the Hogg Foundation launched the East Texas Coalition for Mental Health Recovery led by Stephany Bryan, also a program officer and consumer and family liaison. The foundation funded the coalition to develop a strong network of consumers, peer specialists, providers and advocates who are skilled, knowledgeable and trained in recovery and wellness. WRAP was identified as a strategy to increase the coalition’s cohesiveness, mutual support, and skills and knowledge.

Now, Heinz and Lena Caballero-Phillips, both advanced-level WRAP facilitators, are leading an intensive year-long WRAP program for 26 coalition members. At the first training in Nacogdoches in February, participants developed individual wellness plans that will be implemented and reinforced through monthly conference calls with the group and weekly individual support calls with Caballero-Phillips.

“It was a very emotional three days,” said participant David Lister. “But I knew from the first second that this thing called WRAP was exactly where I belonged.”

The facilitators first shared inspiring experiences of recovery. “Often this is a person’s first realization that recovery from mental illness is possible,” Heinz said. “They are then empowered to become personally responsible for their own wellness.”

People in the mental health system may begin to depend on that system for wellness. Through WRAP, they can become informed mental health consumers who advocate for themselves. The WRAP process also fosters the development of a community and a support network. Heinz noted that it’s common for participants to want to advocate for others as well as for themselves.

“Because of what WRAP has done for me,” said participant Kathy Gilman, “I am hoping to ‘pay it forward’ and help other consumers look at their lives and their futures with more hope.”

Next, the participants began crafting their own plans, beginning with a daily maintenance plan – a list of everything a participant needs to do daily to stay well. For example, the plan might include getting 30 minutes of sunlight, taking medication, showering, talking with a friend, eating a healthy meal, and snuggling with a pet.

Participants learn to recognize triggers, which are reminders of past events that cause negative feelings and reactions. For example, overhearing a couple arguing can cause a person to feel anxious, sad or scared. A positive response could be to leave the situation and call a friend. By identifying triggers, monitoring reactions and developing specific response action plans, participants take responsibility for their own wellness.

Participants also develop a safety plan on how supporters and care providers can support them and help avoid a potential crisis.

Heinz stressed that WRAP is a dynamic process that anticipates life challenges rather than waiting for them to sneak up uninvited and unexpected. Participants develop a wellness toolbox with strategies they have found to be effective and refine these tools over time. Daily maintenance plans change. New triggers may emerge that require new action plans. Safety plans are updated to remain effective.

Ultimately, WRAP is about inspiring hope and providing the means for people to take responsibility for their own lives and personal wellness.

Tuesday Marler summed it up after her WRAP training: “It was so personal and so rewarding and it touched my heart so very much. I pray that many more people will have the same opportunity. I will never ever be the same.”

Visit the mental health recovery and WRAP Web site at www.mentalhealthrecovery.com for more information.